Historic Mount Edgcumbe's uncertain future

Image caption Storm clouds gather over the park at Mount Edgcumbe with views over the River Tamar to Plymouth

A proposed cut in funding for the Mount Edgcumbe country park estate in Cornwall has raised fears for its future.

Ian Berry is responsible for keeping Mount Edgcumbe in good order, and with his background in the Royal Marines he might be expected to be rather good at it.

But Mr Berry, 57, and the 13 staff of gardeners and rangers are facing their biggest fight yet.

Mount Edgcumbe House, set in 865 acres and dating to the 16th Century, is the former home of the Earls of Mount Edgcumbe.

'Way of life'

The park was sold to Plymouth and Cornwall councils by the seventh Earl in 1971 and gets a subsidy from each authority of £192,000 a year.

It has been a bucolic retreat for people escaping the hubbub of Plymouth, a short ferry ride away across the River Tamar.

Now, as part of its cuts, Cornwall Council proposes to reduce its grant to zero within three years.

Father-of-two Mr Berry has worked at Edgcumbe for 26 years, through floods and storms.

He is stoical about the planned cuts. "It is serious, but we are part of the public sector and everyone is feeling the effect of cuts," he said.

"I don't think anyone considers it as a job, it is a way of life. We are privileged to make sure it continues as it was intended."

The sprawling estate on the Cornish side of the River Tamar is a handful, with 55 Grade I and II structures and four ancient monuments, four beaches and a deer park.

Helping the paid staff is a 50-strong army of volunteers, the Friends of Edgcumbe Park.

Mr Berry said that there were very few estates which can compete with it in terms of diversity, from the wildness of Rame Head on the southern edge to the sweeping Whitsand Bay on its western edge.

On a clear day you can see to the Lizard Peninsula more than 60 miles away.

It has weathered vicious storms in 1989 and 1990, and has only been shut when foot and mouth disease swept through the countryside in 2001.

"It was particularly difficult because the public were not here and it took away the life of the park," said Mr Berry. "I can still remember the smell of the disinfectant around the park."

This winter has also tested the workers, with heavy rain leading to landslips along the South West Coastal Path.

While the future of the park's finances are in doubt there is one thing for sure, the emergence of the delicate flowers of its camellias, from January onwards.

The camellia collection of Mount Edgcumbe was started in 1976 with a gift of 70 camellias from the International Camellia Society. There are now about 1,000 varieties in the collection.

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